Spieletag 2012, aka the best research trip

It’s a sign of something when the project you’re working on legitimately requires you to travel to Germany to attend a boardgame festival. What exactly I’m not sure, but however uncertain we are about a lot of the details of Modelling Play, one of the few things we’re certain of is that it’s an interactive performance taking place around a table, and in that respect it owes a lot to the venerable tradition of boardgaming.

So with that in mind, Nikki Rachel Muttley Nathan and myself departed for Essen, Germany to spend several days at the biggest boardgame festival in the world, Spieletag. It’s a fairly intense experience for a non-gamer to arrive at a town and have a crush of 75,000 people swarming in from all corners of the globe, packed out trains on the subway, people everywhere and then to arrive at the convention centre and wander through hall after hall packed full of boardgames.

Over the last 48 hours we have played a lot of boardgames. We played a Settlers of Catan variation which I was terrible at, a game called River Dragons where you needed to build a bridge across a river in order for your dragon to visit the pagoda on the other side. We played a game set in 1930s America called Crown of Underworld by a new Polish company. Nathan fell in love with a game called Marrakech around being a carpet salesman. Nikki and I fell in love with a game called Dancing Eggs which was intended for five year olds. Muttley and Rachel were consistently the best at all the games.

And we learned a lot. There’s a lot that boardgames can teach about how to invite a user in, how to structure an interactive experience, different ways and means of building tension, how much control to hand over to the participant and how much to maintain as a facilitator, and how much you can achieve with a few simple mechanisms. Many thoughts which we’ll only properly apply when we return to UCL next week.

In the meantime, the most wild and fun experience of the festival was the ten minute game Escape! which according to BoardGameGeek.com had the most buzz of any game at all of Spieletag. And fair enough, it was wild. DIG IT.

– David F


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